The news of the recent hacker attacks against Target and most recently Nieman Marcus provide a real wake-up call for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

These two join a growing list of breached companies that over the past months have included Snapchat, Skype, and Yahoo! just name a few. Many smaller firms also reported unwanted intrusions.

The physical impact of a hacking attack can be devastating. For instance malware can infect a desktop computer and reveal administrator credentials. It could then be used to access the website, web server and other resources on the network.

A vulnerability in a server operating system can provide a hacker access to files that make up the website. It can cause it to serve spam or malicious files to innocent visitors. Sites can be listed as "malicious" and even removed from search engine pages.

Various web applications that power more dynamic web sites present multiple ways for an attacker to exploit a site and connect to the website's data base. These data bases may contain financial or personal information that can be later farmed for identity theft or credit card fraud.

Some firms may be hit with a denial of service attack. This can cause a disruption in web services. Essential business services running over the Internet can cease to function.

Businesses can face a variety of legal ramifications resulting from a hacking attack. In addition they can damage a company's reputation to the point that they lose customers and revenue.

Media coverage of the attack will cause some customers to lose trust in the business. Web sites identified as containing spam or malicious content will cause visitors to stay away.

While no system is entirely bullet proof, small medium and sized businesses can take a variety of steps to greatly reduce their exposure from an outside intrusion.

A business should configure firewalls and do them properly. A poorly configured firewall can act like an open door for any intruder. It is extremely important to set the rules to allow only traffic through the firewall that is necessary for business operations.

Antivirus software should be installed and updated regularly. Both intrusion detection systems and anti-virus software must be updated, even on a daily basis. These updates are necessary to detecting even the latest viral threat.

Companies should perform attack and penetration tests. By running these tests you can identify vulnerable points in the network that can be easily accessed from both external and internal users. After identifying them you can thwart attacks from external sources and correct the pitfalls that could become the entry points for intruders.

Password policies should be created and made mandatory. These should include passwords of seven characters at a minimum but still relatively easy to remember. They should be changed every 60 days. The password should also be made up of both alpha and numeric characters, making it more unique.

Various default, test and example pages and applications that usually come with web server software should also be removed. They can be a weak point to attack. Since they are the same in many systems, the cracking experience can be easily duplicated.

Businesses should also enhance the physical security of their company. The possibility of an intruder walking into their office premises to gain whatever information they wish needs to be reduced or eliminated. These physical security mechanisms should be fully functional and effective.

User-awareness campaigns are also highly recommended. All possible steps must be taken to make all the users of the network aware of the pitfalls of security and the necessary security practices to minimize these risks. Until all the users are aware of certain factors related to the network, protection cannot be carried out in the true sense of the term.

The Target situation indicates that nearly all businesses can be vulnerable to a cyber attack. However, utilizing a variety of precautionary methods will lessen the possibilities of a security breach and reduce the chances your information will be compromised.

Marc Arbesman is a founder and CIO of ThrottleNet, Inc. ThrottleNet offers an array of technology services and products to help business owners achieve their corporate goals, while reducing overhead. This is accomplished through outsourced Managed Network Services which helps companies improve their technology uptime and IT capabilities while, at the same time, reducing costs. The firm offers custom software development and mobile applications to help companies accelerate their business growth. For additional information contact ThrottleNet online at http://www.throttlenet.com or call 866-826-5966